What does it take to live in peace? Enough to pay bills with some left over for entertainment? No one in the family arguing? Secure employment? Absence of health issues? And how about confronting life’s pressures? Do we get angry and lash out at any who have contributed to the pressure? Or by become bitter because life appears to have handed us a raw deal? Do we walk away and quit? Or turn to substances we imagine will better help us handle the pressure.
Every day brings with it a spiritual conflict. While complete in Christ, we are also in the process of growing. We cannot nor should we remain babes in our spiritual journey. Although we reign with Christ presently, we are still his slaves and responsible for doing the bidding of our Master. And though the presence of Christ dwells in us through the Holy Spirit, we still face the pressure to sin.
Grace by Faith Leads to Peace (vv. 1-2)
Because of Calvary—and through our faith in Christ—we are presently at peace with God. Paul has already dealt at length with faith and will again here where it relates to our peace. When attempting to translate the word “faith” for the Chamula people of Southern Mexico, translators discovered no single word in their language fit. Translators crossed a major hurdle when they translated it as follows: “taking seriously what God has obligated himself to do.” Inserting that into verse one, the result is, “Therefore, since we have taken seriously what God has obligated himself to do, we have peace with God.”
The process of justification escorts us into a peaceful condition with Christ. We often assume certain things have to occur or that we have to possess certain items to experience peace. Spiritual peace, however, has nothing to do with our circumstances or what we might own. Biblical peace is beyond our understanding (Philippians 4:7) and possessed regardless of or in spite of our situations.
The Greek word for peace, eirene, means an absence of hostility between us and God. As referenced above, Paul addresses this peace as beyond our understanding. It guards our hearts and minds and will keep us focused, warding off anxiety and worry no matter how intense the circumstances appear. Peace is preceded by bringing our prayers and supplications to God, for only as we share them with him will he, in turn, give peace. As we bring those things that appear unpeaceful to God, we acknowledge our lack of control over the circumstances and express our trust in him to carry us through the difficulties we experience.
But there is an even greater peace than peace in troubling circumstances. This superior peace has nothing to do with our state of affairs. We can only possess this peace in adverse circumstances when it is preceded by peace with God. We have peace with God because of what Christ has done at Calvary and because we have accepted his gift by faith. Jesus brings peace because he is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Peace results from knowing our sins are forgiven, that we are no longer under condemnation, and that we will never have to face God as our judge because we belong to his family and have been made joint heirs with his Son.
One characteristic of Hebrew poetry is repetition, which allows a person to see an already revealed truth from a different angle. So it is with the matter of grace. Not only does God justify and reconcile us to himself through our faith in his Son, but he also allows this faith to usher us into the grace in which we stand. That is, Christ conducts us into the very presence of God.
We might imagine an opportunity to visit the President in the Oval Office. We approach a closed door—all the while realizing the most important man in the free world is behind the door sitting at his desk. But we cannot go in of our own accord. One of his cabinet members must open the door, lead us in, and introduce us.
Satan may accuse us before God, but his accusations carry no weight for Christ intercedes for us. A wonderful peace arrives upon realizing nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). The position we stand in is one of highest privilege. We belong to God’s family and are even considered his friends (John 15:15). We can confidently and joyfully look forward to our eternal sharing of God’s glory. Thus the state of peace is much different than feelings of peace.
Feelings are determined by circumstances while the state of peace is given by God. Our old nature no longer blocks interaction with our heavenly Father, for we have been dealt a new nature in Christ. While unconfessed acts of sin can affect the quality of the relationship, they cannot separate us from God in our position.
Grace by Faith Helps Us Deal with Life’s Pressures (vv. 3-5)
God gives us the power to overcome. First-century believers were familiar with suffering. In fact, suffering was the rule rather than the exception. Paul was also acquainted with it. He lists some things pressures help us become, but the becoming is not necessarily enjoyable unless viewed with a proper perspective.
The Greek word for tribulation is thlipsis and means affliction, distress, straits, or a pressing together. Our suffering can result from our stand for Christ or because of sin in the world or our personal lives. Sin has affected God’s creation, and it enslaves those apart from Christ as is manifest in the multitude of sinful actions we witness each day.
While we are overcomers now, the reality of our full overcoming is reserved for heaven. Trials and tribulations by their very nature are not enjoyable, but we learn from them if we respond in the correct manner. Instead of pondering the why of the situation (unless it is to contemplate whether personal sin has brought it), we need to question what God may be trying to teach or can teach us through the experience. God can and does send trials, tribulations, and periods of suffering as discipline for unconfessed sin as long as they do not violate his nature. So examining ourselves is useful.
Yet a great deal of pressure comes from living in a world that has been affected by the fall of mankind into sin. No matter how difficult the pressure, God endows us with his strength and allows us to overcome and move through the challenges of life. Jesus told his followers they would have tribulation, but they were to be of good cheer because he had overcome the world (John 16:33). Association with Christ gives us the same privilege. We must also remember everything touching our life is either permitted or sent by God, and he has promised to work all things together for our good and his glory. All things believers experience, pressures included, are Father-filtered.
What can pressures teach us? They help us learn endurance or perseverance. We don’t like pain nor do we welcome news of tragic events, but a correct response results in a growth element in our spiritual journey. When we refuse to let fear overcome us, when we reject depression, when we forsake bitterness, anger, and rage, and when we avoid disappointment, we grow through life’s pressures. We are more sturdily formed in life by difficulties than by easy situations. The word endurance can also be translated patience and is in the active tense. We don’t simply sit back and endure but actively respond so that something is altered. When viewed through God’s lenses, difficulties are not random, meaningless, or wasted.
Our endurance or patience will produce character. Character is somewhat like integrity. The Greek word dokime means we have been approved and proved as a result of the testing. Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking or when everyone is gawking. Character is who we truly are and will express itself with integrity. Pressure reveals who we are as well as assists in the process of conforming us to the image of God’s Son. While some crack under pressure, we can respond to life’s pressures in such a way that we are developed and made stronger.
Character strengthens our confidence about our salvation and future. Salvation is progressive. We are saved in time from the penalty of sin, we are in the process of being saved from the power of sin, and we will eventually be rescued from the presence of sin. Character development strengthens our expectation of eternal salvation. As we grow in our faith experience, our trust in God and his promises become stronger. We near the future, and we become more confident of it.
We will never be disappointed by the hope we have in Christ. God loved us and sent his Son to appropriate our salvation. He has sent his Spirit to indwell us and give us the assurance we belong to him.